I grew up in a remarkable home, the middle of seven children. My parents raised us well. They loved us well. We laughed hard growing up. But being the middle child, I couldn't figure out where I fit in the home, whether I was the youngest of the older three or the oldest of the younger three. When you don't know where you fit inside the home and you're young and you're desperate to fit in somewhere, I'd figured where I would fit outside the home. So I made some bad decisions about who I hung out with, I dropped out of high school, got kicked out of the house.
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What I'm most deeply grateful for is that God's love for us, approval of us, and commitment to us does not ride on our resolve but on Jesus' resolve for us. The gospel is the good news announcing Jesus' infallible devotion to us despite our inconsistent devotion to Him. The gospel is not a command to hang on to Jesus; it's a promise that no matter how weak and unsuccessful our faith and efforts may be, God is always holding on to us.
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Only the gospel can truly save you. The gospel doesn't make good people good; it makes dead people alive. That's the difference between the gospel of Jesus Christ and every other world religion. All the others exhort their followers to save themselves by being good, by conforming their lives to whatever their worshiped deity is. But the gospel is God's acceptance of us based on what Christ has done, not on what we can do.
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We make a big mistake when we conclude that the law is the answer to bad behavior. In fact, the law alone stirs up more of such behavior. People get worse, not better, when you lay down the law. To be sure, the Spirit does use both God's law and God's gospel in our sanctification. But the law and the gospel do very different things.
By looking at the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us, we totally miss the Point-like the two on the road to Emmaus. As Luke 24 shows, it's possible to read the Bible, study the Bible, and memorize large portions of the Bible, while missing the whole point of the Bible. It's entirely possible, in other words, to read the stories and miss the Story.
one primary enemy of the Gospel-legalism-comes in two forms. Some people avoid the gospel and try to save themselves by keeping the rules, doing what they're told, maintaining the standards, and so on (you could call this 'front-door legalism'). Other people avoid the gospel and try to save themselves by breaking the rules, doing whatever they want, developing their own autonomous standards, and so on (you could call this 'back-door legalism').
When I was 25, I believed I could change the world. At 41, I have come to the realization that I cannot change my wife, my church, or my kids, to say nothing of the world. Try as I might, I have not been able to manufacture outcomes the way I thought I could, either in my own life or other people's.
God reminds us again and again that things between He and us are forever fixed. They are the rendezvous points where God declares to us concretely that the debt has been paid, the ledger put away, and that everything we need, in Christ we already possess. This re-convincing produces humility, because we realize that our needs are fulfilled. We don't have to worry about ourselves anymore. This in turn frees us to stop looking out for what we think we need and liberates us to love our neighbor by looking out for what they need.
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Our hearts are continuously rebellious. Every time we sin in thought, word, or deed, we're essentially saying in that moment that, "I don't need you God. I don't want you God. I like my way better than your way." If this goes on day after day after day, year after year, month after month, it would understandable for God to say, "I've given you ten trillion tries. You're finished." But it's not. So in that sense, His grace is always surprising, never ceases to be amazing and His mercy is remarkably outrageous.
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Grief, of course, is not something that operates according to a specific time frame, and it seems cold to suggest otherwise. Yet when we do not grasp that God is present in pain, we eventually insist on victory or, worse, blame the sufferer for not "getting over it" fast enough. This is more than a failure to extend compassion; it's an exercise in cruelty.
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The good news of the gospel [for sufferers] is not an exhortation from above to 'hang on at all costs,' or 'grin and bear it' in the midst of hardship. No, the good news is that God is hanging on to you, and in the end, when all is said and done, the power of God will triumph over every pain and loss.
You see, the secret of the gospel is that we become more spiritually mature when we focus less on what we need to do for God and focus more on all that God has already done for us. The irony of the gospel is that we actually perform better as we grow in our understanding that our relationship with God is based on Christ's performance for us, not our performance for him.
Only when we see that the way of God's law is absolutely inflexible will we see that God's grace is absolutely indispensable. A high view of the law reminds us that God accepts us on the basis of Christ's perfection, not our progress. Grace, properly understood, is the movement of a holy God toward an unholy people. He doesn't cheapen the law or ease its requirements. He fulfills them in his Son, who then gives his righteousness to us. That's the gospel. Pure and simple.
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Unfulfilled dreams, ongoing relational tension, the loss of friendships, a hard marriage, rebellious teenagers, the death of loved ones, remaining sinful patterns - whatever it is for you - live long enough, lose enough, suffer enough, and the idealism of youth fades, leaving behind the reality of life in a broken world as a broken person.
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God is not interested in what you think you should be or feel. He is not interested in the narrative you construct for yourself, or that others construct for you. Rather, He is interested in you, the you who suffers, the you who inflicts suffering on others, the you who hides, the you who has bad days (and good ones). And He meets you where you are.
When we depend on anything smaller than God to provide us with the security, significance, meaning, and value that we long for, God will love us enough to take it away. Much of our anger and bitterness, therefore, is God prying open our hands and taking away something we've held onto more tightly than him.
Submitting self to God is the only real freedom-because the deepest slavery is self-dependence, self-reliance. When you live your life believing that everything (family, finances, relationships, career) depends primarily on you, you're enslaved to your strengths and weaknesses. You're trying to be your own savior. Freedom comes when we start trusting in God's abilities and wisdom instead of our own. Real life begins when we transfer our trust from our own efforts to the efforts of Christ.
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The gospel brings things together. One of the great demonstration of the gospel's power is reconciliation. I've got friends who are surfers, doctors, lawyers, artists and entertainers. Some people are cool and some people are geeky. I look around at my friends and I think, only the gospel has the power to put together a friendship like this.
My job as a pastor and theologian is to tease out the nature and the necessity of the gospel in meticulous ways, in everything I say, in everything I like. I want desperately for the church in America to rediscover the power and the beauty and the nature and the necessity of the gospel.
I've got three kids. I worry about them but the gospel freed me and freed my wife. We are not trying to make our kids think that we're super spiritual or we've got it all together. They see mom and dad being real people. What they hear dad talking about at home is not different from what they see from dad [at church]. That won't guarantee that they'll avoid the whole PK, MK thing. But we are hopefully not contributing to what normally produces that crisis, which is pretending.
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I never realized how much I've become dependent on human approval until God took it away. I didn't even realize that I was in a self-made prison of human approval and human acceptance. Most of the prisons we live in we are not conscious of. God showed me Jesus plus nothing equals everything. And everything minus Jesus equals nothing. That set me free.